30th April 2014

I’ve been comparing Great and Blue Tits breeding patterns, since we have a Great Tit’s nest concurrent with Sian’s Blue Tit’s nest. Great Tit’s use coarser nesting material, which follows, as their nest seems messier than any Blue Tit’s we have had nesting in the past. Both Blue and Great Tits typically lay one egg a day, usually early morning, (Great Tits typically lay 7-9 and Blue Tits 8-12) and they do not sit on them (though they often cover them with soft nesting material), until about the next to last egg to be laid. The female, who has built the nest, sits on the eggs, leaving briefly to feed as well as being fed by the male. Females of both species pluck all the feathers from their abdomen to create a ‘Brooding patch’, which becomes swollen with many blood vessels near the skin surface, creating extra heat for brooding. Both have brooding times of 13-15 days and the hatched young take between 18-21 days to fledge. Sometimes not all eggs hatch or young survive to fledging. (Typically only one adult and one young survive the first year!)  If you have any nest-boxes in your patch, whether empty or being used, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) would like you to record details on their BTO Nestbox Challenge site, which includes tips about how to monitor nests. Conditions: Cloudy, still day with thunder and heavy rain in the evening. Temperature: Max 16 – Min 10c

Coal Tits and other Tits are still bonding with food-exchanges.

Coal Tits and other Tits are still bonding with food-exchanges.

The Coal Tits exchange food today.

And Tits are still lining their nest- this Blue Tit may be colllecting down to cover it's eggs.

And Tits are still lining their nest- this Blue Tit may be colllecting down to cover it’s eggs.

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29th April 2014

Another beautiful spring day in Sheffield and lovely, after watching the Peregrine adults feeding the 3 gorgeous white, fluffy chicks on the computer, to watch the

Molly the Witch bud.

Molly the Witch bud.

Molly the Witch Paeony in full flower.

Molly the Witch Paeony in full flower.

Wrens being busy taking more moss to their nest in the garden. The star of the garden at the moment, though, is definitely the Paeony ‘Molly the Witch’, (a lovely name and a corruption of the near-impossible Latin name Paeonia Miokosewitschii!). An expensive plant but worth every penny, I think, this paeony transforms from burgundy shoots, to glaucous leaves and a large, single, pale lemon flower. The petals close in the rain to protect the mass of stamens which attract pollinating bees and other insects. Only flowering for six weeks, it then produces black (fertile) and crimson (infertile) seeds. As with all paeonies, they don’t much like being moved but mine survived- take care not to plant them too deep or they won’t flower. Conditions: Warm, still, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 17- Min 9c.

One of the par of Wrens still taking moss to their nest in the bird-box.

One of the par of Wrens still taking moss to their nest in the bird-box.

28th April 2014

News of eggs today. Having gone away for Easter with no sign of nesting in the camera box, we came back to a messy Great Tit nest and this morning there was one egg! Then news from Sian that she has at least 1 Blue Tit egg in her camera-box, and she’d seen that three of the four Peregrine eggs in the Sheffield nest had hatched! To cap it all (and add to the fuzzy photographs today, I’m afraid), out in Derbyshire Lynn and I heard and watched a Yellowhammer, way off in the top of a tree, singing it’s unique phrase (rather fancifully translated as  “A little bit of bread and no cheese”). This is especially exciting as it’s the first Yellowhammer I’ve seen for a few years- they are getting pretty scarce. I had better luck with the photo’s when I came across this beautiful Green-veined White Butterfly feeding on Ladies Smock, one of the plants of the cabbage family they lay their eggs on. (Green Veined Whites are not a pest for garden cabbages though). The adults live for about a month and the males give off a scent like Lemon Verbena to attract females! Conditions: A beautiful spring day with plenty of sunshine. Temperature: Max 16- Min 9c

A further fuzzy photo of a Yellowhammer- it was a long way away!

A  fuzzy photo of a Yellowhammer- it was a long way away!

 

A fuzzy photo of our first Great Tit egg in the camera box.

A fuzzy photo of our first Great Tit egg in the camera box.

Green-veined White Butterfly feeding on Ladies Smock.

Green-veined White Butterfly feeding on Ladies Smock.

27th April 2014

Two great birds are back visiting the garden again after a few weeks absence, probably busy getting nests ready. The Jay and The Nuthatch both start breeding in late April, and for both, it is only the female who sits on the eggs. Jays build untidy nests of roots, twigs and fibres in trees or shrubs. Nuthatches build their nests in holes in trees or walls  They will often take over a Woodpeckers old nesting-hole, skilfully reducing the hole-diameter by adding beakfulls of mud to the sides.

The Jay, a frequent visitor to the garden again.

The Jay, a frequent visitor to the garden again.

The Nuthatch is back on the feeders too.

The Nuthatch is back on the feeders too.

One of my favourite wild flowers of this time of year is also great in shady, damp areas of the garden- the Dusky Cranesbill or Geranium Phaeum. The native form has deep plum petals, like crumpled silk, but you can also buy white and mauve varieties for the garden- cut the flowers back after the first flush and it will flower again long into summer. Insects will love it, and Goldfinch will enjoy the seed later in the year. Conditions: Cool with sun and showers. Temperature: Max 13- Min 9c

Dusky Cranesbill, with its crumpled petals and long stamens.

Geranium Phaeum, with its crumpled petals and long stamens.One of the paler, garden forms

Dusky Cranesbill- the deep plum coloured native form

Dusky Cranesbill- the deep plum coloured native form

April 26th 2014

IMG_9426We have been trying to add Daffodils to the garden each year, as, with careful choice of varieties, it is possible to have them in flower for five months of the year, from March, not just a short spell in spring. A good database for the wide range of varieties is ‘Daffseek’. Wild Daffodils still grow in profusion in a few woods and meadows, especially in Gloucestershire, where several sites are managed by the Wildlife Trust there. Their name comes from the early European name ‘Afodell’  and the d probably derives from the Dutch name De Afodill. As early as the 16th Century they have been colloquially known as ‘Daffadown Dilly‘ in England. Easy to grow and spread, Daffodils sometimes suffer from being ‘blind’, i.e. lots of leaves and no flowers, which can be corrected by feeding, or planting the bulbs deeper. It is worth taking their seed heads off if you can, because the energy then goes back into the build for next year, rather than into producing ineffective seeds. Single varieties, as with most garden plants, are more useful for insects than doubles. Conditions: Cool with April showers. Temperature: Max 14- Min 8cIMG_9424IMG_7200

Pheasants Eye is a favourite variety.

Pheasants Eye is a favourite variety.

April 25th 2014

On this very misty, rainy day I’ll return to Bumblebees, photographed recently in the garden. The Common Carder Bee is one of the most common Bumblebees and a frequent visitor to gardens. It is the only Bumblebee in the UK with a wholly ginger thorax, which should mean I’ve identified these correctly! Its abdomen varies in marking and colour. The one on the wood began warming up in the sun, and then groomed

Queen Bumblebee holding on tight by it's claws while it grooms its body

Queen Bumblebee holding on tight by it’s claws while it grooms its body

itself by holding on with it’s front claws and combing its whole body over and over again with it’s other legs- great to watch. The Carder Bumblebees (so-named because they ‘card’ their nest materials into place with their legs)  are fascinating. All the bees die except last summer’s final females which, after being fertilised, hibernate and emerge in spring to search for nest-sites. They choose cavities in the ground, like mouse-holes or hollows in the grass, or above ground like bird nests, holes in sheds etc. The Queen gathers together moss and grass and build a small hollow sphere, bound together with wax. She then forms a 5mm bowl of brown wax in the nest, fills this with pollen, and deposits 5 – 15 eggs inside. She creates another 20mm cup above it and fills this with nectar, as a bad weather food source. The larvae hatch after a few days and eat the pollen,  maturing in a few days. The first to emerge are workers, to tend following batches of larvae, to a maximum size per nest of 200 bees. Males and females emerge later and mate. Only the last, fertilised females survive to hibernate as Queens and emerge in early spring. Carder Bumblebees have long enough tongues to feed on a wide range of  garden plants, including thyme, sage, antirrhinum and lavender. Conditions: Wet and cool. Temperature: Max 11 – Min 8 c

Carder Bumblebee- this one, feeding on Pulmonaria, has a stripy abdomen

Carder Bumblebee- this one, feeding on Pulmonaria, has a stripy abdomen

Carder Bumblebee, showing its long tongue, capable of feeding on tubular flowers such as sage and lavender.

Carder Bumblebee, showing its long tongue, capable of feeding on tubular flowers such as sage and lavender.

 

24th April 2014

Both Wild Garlics together: Ramsons, and Jack By The Hedge or Garlic Mustard

Both Wild Garlics together- Ramsons and Jack By The Hedge, or Garlic Mustard

We headed out to Renishaw Gardens today for Lynn’s birthday, to enjoy the beautiful gardens, lakes and Bluebell woods. The sight and scent in the warm sunshine was wonderful, especially with the lime-green Beech leaves just breaking. So today, I’ll just post a few photo’s of some of the wonderful wild flowers out there and locally at the moment,with the Bluebells: Pink Purslane, Red Campion, Alkanet

Alkanet, the roots are a source of purple dye

Alkanet, the roots are a source of purple dye

and both wild garlics- Ramsons and Jack by the Hedge, plus another shot of the gorgeous male Orange Tip on the Garlic Mustard (Jack By The Hedge). Conditions: A beautiful, still spring day. Temperature: Max 15 – Min 9c

Male Orange Tip feeding on Jack by the Hedge today (Garlic Mustard)

Male Orange Tip feeding on Jack by the Hedge today (Garlic Mustard)

We knew this as Bachelor's Buttons as children

Red Campion-We knew this as Bachelor’s Buttons as children

Pink Purslane among the Bluebells. Unusually, it has pink pollen!

Pink Purslane among the Bluebells. Unusually, it has pink pollen!